Federal Government Recognizes Food Insecurity on College Campuses and Calls for Better Access to Food Assistance Benefits

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that while colleges have made efforts to support students who experience food insecurity, many eligible students lack access to government resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report detailing issues of food insecurity among community college students. Food insecurity has been a long-standing problem facing community college students. In 2015 and 2017, ACCT and the Wisconsin Hope Lab (now the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University) issued reports documenting the prevalence of food insecurity across the country. According to the Hope Lab’s most recent 2018 report, nearly half of community college students experience food insecurity. While food insecurity among community college students is not new, the GAO report marks an important milestone of the federal government recognizing the magnitude of the problem and barriers students face to accessing federal food assistance benefits.

Researchers from GAO reviewed over 30 previous studies that show a broad range in prevalence of food insecurity among college students. For their new study, GAO researchers found that 29% of all undergraduates are low-income and have at least one other risk factor for food insecurity. Community college students are more likely to have multiple risk factors.

The new report also includes data gathered from interviews with college administrators and students, including from seven community colleges. GAO researchers found that the problem of food insecurity is impacted by a lack of information for college students about federal food assistance benefits, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), and confusion about students’ eligibility. College students are eligible for SNAP benefits if they meet certain requirements, such as being a parent for a child under six or working a minimum of 20 hours per week. However, GAO researchers found that in 2016, roughly 1.8 million (57%) of low-income, at-risk undergraduates who likely meet SNAP requirements reported not receiving the benefit.

At a briefing this month on Capitol Hill, higher education and food assistance stakeholders discussed the implications of GAO’s report and the need for continued advocacy for policies to address students’ food insecurities and basic needs. Panelists, including Dr. Pam Eddinger, President of Bunker Hill Community College, acknowledged the progress campuses have made to support students access food and emergency aid in times of need, but stressed that food pantries alone would not solve the systemic problem of food insecurity.

For more information, the full GAO report can be accessed here. In addition, ACCT will be holding a session at our upcoming Community College National Legislative Summit to discuss findings GAO’s report and implications for community colleges.

 Allison Beer is the Senior Policy Analyst for ACCT. She can be reached at

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